The Well-Educated Mind : A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had
by S. Wise Bauer

Overview -

Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven't because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind , Susan Wise Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise.  Read more...

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More About The Well-Educated Mind by S. Wise Bauer

Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven't because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise.

Newly expanded and updated to include standout works from the twenty-first century as well as essential readings in science (from the earliest works of Hippocrates to the discovery of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs), The Well-Educated Mind offers brief, entertaining histories of six literary genres--fiction, autobiography, history, drama, poetry, and science--accompanied by detailed instructions on how to read each type. The annotated lists at the end of each chapter--ranging from Cervantes to Cormac McCarthy, Herodotus to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Aristotle to Stephen Hawking--preview recommended reading and encourage readers to make vital connections between ancient traditions and contemporary writing.

The Well-Educated Mind reassures those readers who worry that they read too slowly or with below-average comprehension. If you can understand a daily newspaper, there's no reason you can't read and enjoy Shakespeare's sonnets or Jane Eyre. But no one should attempt to read the "Great Books" without a guide and a plan. Bauer will show you how to allocate time to reading on a regular basis; how to master difficult arguments; how to make personal and literary judgments about what you read; how to appreciate the resonant links among texts within a genre--what does Anna Karenina owe to Madame Bovary?--and also between genres.

In her best-selling work on home education, The Well-Trained Mind, the author provided a road map of classical education for parents wishing to home-school their children; that book is now the premier resource for home-schoolers. In The Well-Educated Mind, Bauer takes the same elements and techniques and adapts them to the use of adult readers who want both enjoyment and self-improvement from the time they spend reading. Followed carefully, her advice will restore and expand the pleasure of the written word.

  • ISBN-13: 9780393080964
  • ISBN-10: 039308096X
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Publish Date: November 2015
  • Page Count: 480
  • Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.98 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Education > Adult & Continuing Education

BookPage Reviews

Well Read: How to read the classics

New Year’s means resolutions, and many will start this month vowing to drop a few pounds, exercise more or declutter their lives. Those with more ambitious aspirations can seek the path to intellectual self-improvement with Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. Updated and expanded from an earlier edition, the book replicates what one should encounter (emphasis on should) at a good liberal arts college or university—a solid grounding in both classical and modern writers who have shaped Western thought. In a user-friendly manner, Bauer suggests not only what a well-educated person should read (and she freely admits her list is subjective and incomplete), but offers guidance on how to read and engage deeply with these canonical texts.

Bauer is a realist. Although the program she puts forth is not for the faint of heart, she fully understands how the distractions of contemporary life preclude total submersion into a life of the mind. She knows that, as when beginning a physical exercise regimen, being overly ambitious in your reading probably means you’ll skip it altogether. She suggests starting with short, regularly scheduled reading periods—as little as 30 minutes, perhaps four days a week. Arguably the best advice she offers is never to check your email right before you start reading. “There is something in the format of email . . . that pulls the mind away from the contemplative, relaxed frame so important for good reading,” she writes. We’ve all been there.

For those who may have difficulty with the actual act of reading (probably few and far between among BookPage readers), Bauer offers direction on practicing the mechanics of reading. She then outlines the ideal ways to go about delving into the Great Books, including repeated readings (generally three), taking notes, learning to evaluate what you’re reading and finding a like-minded individual or two with whom to discuss the material. Her methods, which replicate a graduate seminar, might feel a bit daunting for the uninitiated, but Bauer is a genial, unintimidating guide. 

The heart of The Well-Educated Mind are the lists, covering six essential genres: fiction, autobiography, history, drama, poetry and science—arranged in that order, from the most familiar and comfortable (for most readers) to the most fear-provoking. Within each category, we are directed to read the works chronologically because, Bauer says, writers build on the work of those who have come before them. She introduces each section with very helpful, context-setting guides on how to approach that genre, what questions to ask yourself when reading and the connections to seek, both within that genre and across all six categories.

Bauer supplies a challenging and intriguing curriculum. The lists contain their share of the usual suspects—Aristotle, Shakespeare, Milton, Thoreau, Woolf—but some pleasant surprises, too, including All the President’s Men and Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Even if you read only a fraction of the choices, The Well-Educated Mind is a welcome counterbalance to the anodyne, information-based sound bytes that assault our daily lives. Unlike that exercise machine being used as a clothes rack in your bedroom, this is a portable, flexible means to self-improvement.


This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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